Gig review: Forced to Mode at The Garage (5th January 2024)

This show was phenomenal! Forced to Mode are described as ‘Germany’s premier Depeche Mode tribute’ and although they are well-established on the Continent, this was their first UK show, at The Garage in London. It was not just a tribute concert. It felt like some kind of religious gathering of Depeche Mode fans! By an interesting coincidence, the real DM are touring this year and are due to play London’s O2 Arena. Going to a tribute show is therefore a much cheaper and more intimate way to experience the music, plus you are guaranteed to hear some songs that the band never play live any more, even some that have never been played live. I should note that Forced to Mode are not attempting to impersonate the band, although singer Christian does strikingly resemble c1993 Dave Gahan both physically and vocally and while keyboardist Thomas does not look a lot like Martin Gore (the songwriter and occasional lead singer) his vocals are similar and he has the same suggestion of shyness on stage. Guitarist and backing vocalist Matthias was confident and very skillful. The trio gave a fantastic performance. As a tribute act, they celebrated the music with the fans and were not afraid to add their own embellishments as accomplished musicians. They interacted with the audience quite a lot and also played guessing the next song from the chords or sounds used. Since they were billed as the ‘Devotional’ tribute, I’d wondered if there’d be live drumming, as there was on the Devotional tour, but as the setlist included many earlier songs, drums would have been redundant.

The support act was Method Cell, an electronic duo from Nottingham who reminded me a little of Soft Cell and Pet Shop Boys. They gave an energetic performance and looked like they were having fun. They were a good choice for DM fans, people who like synth pop with a dangerous edge.

Forced to Mode began their set with ‘Oberkorn’, which segued into ‘My Secret Garden’. This was a fabulous nostalgic opener because this was how DM started their shows during 1982-3. The rest of the setlist was: ‘World in My Eyes’, ‘Walking in My Shoes’, ‘Shake the Disease’, ‘Master and Servant’, ‘Stripped’, ‘Compulsion’, ‘It Doesn’t Matter Two’, ‘Sweetest Perfection’, ‘Ghosts Again’, ‘Leave in Silence’, ‘A Question of Time’, ‘Personal Jesus’, ‘Enjoy the Silence’, and the encores: ‘Any Second Now (Voices)’, ‘Home’, ‘But Not Tonight’, ‘Photographic’, ‘Never Let Me Down Again’, ‘Fly on the Windscreen’ and ‘Everything Counts’.

As you will see from the setlist, the emphasis was on fan favourites with a little unpredictability mixed in. With such a great back catalogue to choose from, however, many of the best songs had to be missed out. I had dreaded that ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ would be the closing song, but luckily it was absent. It wasn’t played live during the DM Devotional era, which is a reasonable excuse not to include it!

The venue, The Garage, is an unpretentious, smallish club with friendly staff, which is conveniently close to Highbury & Islington Station. I’m not sure that it was full to capacity, as I had room to move my feet on the floor, which was sticky with spilled drinks. The volume was very loud and I was glad I’d brought protection for my ears. Forced to Mode had a well-deserved beer at the end of the show and were all smiles at their triumph. I couldn’t say which song had the biggest reaction because they all went down a storm. They seemed eager to do a UK tour at some point and I’m sure it would be a great success.

Poster of Forced to Mode 5th January at the Garage.

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